Painting native oysters

I’ve been painting and sketching native oysters, Ostrea edulis.  I buy them from oyster fishermen at Mylor in Cornwall near Falmouth. It was bitterly cold then and it’s pretty cold now.

_DSC4569 Detail of sketch of native oysters © 2016 Catherine Forshall

It takes a long time to establish a native oyster bed. They were a major source of cheap food. In 1851, for example, a round 500 million oysters were sold through Billingsgate. Our oyster beds were destroyed by a series of cold winters, surely not the first though, in the mid 20th Century, and then pollution, the parasite, Bonnania Ostrea, the beastly slipper limpets and oyster drills which drill holes into them and eat it contents, they are a big threat for commercial oyster farms.

Painting Native Oysters

Now they can only be collected under license in Scotland.

Sketching Native Oysters

Oysters change back and forth from female to male according to the temperature of the water. You get in the bath nice and hot, go to sleep, and wake up in cold water, surprisingly different. Well, surprising the first time, but native oysters can live for 20 years so they may get used to it.

Native Oysters

Native Oysters, acrylic on canvas 50 cms x 100 cms

You can see my work in London at the The Flying Colours Gallery and at Oliver Contemporary

All photographs by James Forshall

Sketching Sea Thrift at Gwenver Beach, Cornwall

Evening light, pink flowers, beside background of breaking waves

We’ve been down to Gwenver Beach. We walked along the path towards the cliffs in the evening light. There was quite a swell and the waves were breaking on the rocks.

The next day we picnicked on the beach. Even though the sun was bright the wind was cold. I sat sketching in the dunes. I’m working for a show to be called ‘Coast’ at the ‘Flying Colours Gallery’, Chelsea, in November. There is a lot of work to do. I’ll be showing fish and shell paintings but also paintings of flowers associated with the sea.

Sea thrift heads against a back ground of breaking wave

Much of the sea thrift was already pollinated and had gone to seed. As well as the bees it attracts a daylight moth, the Five Spot Burnett, Zygaena Trifolii, and a small snail, the name of which I do not know, which happily munches its way through the pink petals, pollinated or not.

Pink Sea Thrift flowers, Zygaena trifolii, Five spot Burnet, blue sky

It’s a lovely place, not far from Sennen Cove in Cornwall. There is a long steep walk down but it’s worth it.

Sea thrift, shadows on sketch

Ink and acrylic sketch on Paper by Catherine Forshall of sea thrift Armeria Maritima at Gwenver Beach Cornwall

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming shows please email me at

All photographs © James Forshall

Gurnard’s Head

I’ve been sketching on Gurnard’s Head.

Catherine Forshall sketching on Gurnards Head, waves, sea, foam and rock in background

We walked down to it through a farming hamlet.  A cat looked at us from  the top of a pile of old tyres.  Black and white cattle waited in a yard. The sun shone through a cold wind. We walked over fields walled in granite, past flowering gorse.

Gorse flowers, pasture, sea, brown cliffs

Gurnard’s Head is a thin promentory of rock, jutting out into the Atlantic. On the sheltered eastern side its slopes are covered with short wiry grass, on the west side black rock cliffs fall vertically to the violent sea.

Ink sketch on paper of the black cliffs on the West side of Gurnard's Head, by Catherine Forshall

It’s very steep and I suffer from vertigo. Although I love this wild beautiful place I am not sure if I could live here. It is so dramatic, so elemental. I think I would find it very tiring, even though I think it is one of my favourite parts of Cornwall.

Two gloved hands, belonging to Catherine Forshall, one holding paint tube sketching on paper against a background of Rock

But it is  inspiring.View from Gurnard's Head cliff top, lichen covered rocks, foam, sea, black rocks

Mixed media sketch of rocks and cliffs near Gurnard's Head by Catherine ForshallIt is  exhilerating.

Gulls coasted on the wind, and further out we could see gannets fishing. These beautiful birds dive from great height to prey on shoals of fish. They hit the water at 60 miles an hour. As they fall they bend their wings back making a W shape, allowing them to refine their aim, and in the second before they hit the water they fold them completely, making themselves into a streamlined, blade of white. On impact they vanish below the surface and in the same instant throw up a white plume of water. It is as if the bird has been atomised. They can dive as far as 50 feet. Their eyes face forward giving them binocular vision, allowing them to judge distance. Their nostrils are inside their mouths and their chests are padded with sacs of air against impact. We lay in the grass watching the gannets work, and fell asleep in the sun.Ruins at abandoned tin mine near Gurnard's Head by James Forshall

Sadly gannets, like so many other species, are under threat from the number of humans and the amount they consume,  a story which started around about the time the wheel house of this abandoned tin mine was built.

View north east from Gurnard's Head

That this wild, beautiful place remains so unspoilt is almost entirely due to the National Trust. Become a member:

Black, white, blue and orange sketch of sea and rock at Gurnard's Head by Catherine Forshall laid on grass

Photographs © James Forshall

Sketches for paintings of a Cornish garden

I’m sketching the flowers of a Cornish garden in preparation for a series of paintings I’ve been asked to do.

magnolia, sketch of magnolia flower, tubes of paint on table

Sketching is important to me.  It allows me to learn to observe the subject, to learn about it’s shape, its line and how they work on a flat surface. It gives me time to absorb these things so that when I come to painting I can do so without hesitation. I like to work quickly.

Helliborus niger beside sketch of helleborus niger on white paper, white flower with green leavesSketching also allows me to experiment with mixes of colour.

Magnolia flower lying on sketch of magnolia flower in sunlight

Photography © James Forshall



Gwenver Beach


Gwenver Beach is just to the north east of Sennen Cove.  On a clear day you can see the Scilly Isles.


On the day we went the sun shone all day. I took my sketch book and was rewarded by finding Sea Thrift growing along the fringe of the beach.


It is also known as Ladies Cushions, Heugh Daisy, and Cliff Clover.


The Sea Thrift plant was on one side of the old brass thrupenny bit minted between 1937 and 1952.






And I also found Sea Holly growing, though not yet in flower.

Photographs all rights reserved


_DSC1896-2Jan Tregeagle was a wicked man, possibly a magistrate, who lived in the early 17th Century near Bodmin.  In order to keep his soul out of the hands of the Devil, and busy until judgement day, he was given a limpet shell and the task of emptying The Dozmary, a gloomy, bottomless tarn on Bodmin Moor,  and just to make sure that he did not complete his task before judgement day, his shell was one of those with a hole in the peak.


Jan Tregeagle must have hated it, bent over the cold black water, his knees aching with the damp, the skin of his hands white and gummy, rotting with exposure to the water, the pale shell clamped between his fingers,  and worst of all the hopelessness of his task.


I have always liked limpet shells though, and have been painting them for a long time. When I was a child they reminded me of those oriental hats, the chinese call doo li.  I like their subtle colours and the way that the lines cross each other like strands of different coloured wool in a scarf, or a natural and very restrained tartan, and the way that like all shells, though clearly of their own species, each one is noticeably different.

_DSC1617 I walked out at dawn to look for limpet shells at Gillingvase Beach.  The beach is loved by Fals. It is on the edge of the town, even early in the morning there were walkers, runners, art students making a film. Later on the surf shop opened and two boys set off on paddle boards, silhouetted against the rising sun, and the tankers on the skyline like fishermen from an earlier time and a different place.


Limpets are home loving creatures and having created a depression in the rock they leave a trail behind them when they graze so that they can find their way back to occupy the same place. They are prey for just about everything else in the sea, birds, crabs, starfish and even whelks, all except the seaweed upon which they feed. They do have a tactic to make things a little bit more difficult for starfish, rising up and rocking from side to side and then stamping the edge of their shells down on the finger tips of the starfish._DSC1765


At the moment there is a collection of my work at the Great Atlantic Gallery, in Falmouth. For more details see the links page.

Photography by

The Native Oyster Search, Mylor, Cornwall


I drove down to Cornwall to see if I could find some native oysters at the Fal Oyster Fishery. They have been harvesting oysters here for more than 500 years, and it is the only fishery, which only uses sailing and rowing boats, as far as I know, in Britain, or for that matter Europe….so very ecological, and one of the few places in Britain where you can buy the native oyster, Ostrea edulis. It was freezing when we arrived in Mylor. We were told to look for the boat with the red sail. And there it was out in the estuary, in an icy north wind, moving surprisingly fast, with another small white open sail boat. It was freezing on the shore…freezing. What it must have been like in the boat, on the open water, handling wet rope and metal and the rough shells I could hardly imagine.

Later, we caught up with Chris Ranger, the skipper and owner of two of the boats, as he was warming up in the bar. He sold me 6 of his large oysters to sketch and paint. You can contact him through _DSC9098
_DSC9187 photographs by James Forshall ©



I am painting these oysters as a private commission for an old client who has a house at Bosham, where for years oysters were grown.  They would have been native oysters unlike these which are Pacific oysters.  I do like the texture and lines of the pacifics, but will be painting some natives and very much look forward to painting Fal oysters from Cornwall.